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Staying healthy with diabetes: Numbers to know

by James Davies


Mojisola Agabato

Living with diabetes demands that you have the right information, alongside your diet and lifestyle changes; be it in the form of education, self-awareness, or daily monitoring, that is, knowing your numbers (blood sugar level).

Contrary to popular opinion, your blood sugar level is not the only important number. There are other numbers you should be conversant with and equally track. Being aware of numbers associated with the condition helps you and your doctor feel more in control and able to maintain it better.

Know your blood glucose number: Your blood glucose level is the measure of the amount of glucose in your blood at a particular time. Two blood glucose tests—fasting blood glucose and random blood glucose tests—can be done to monitor the levels of glucose in the blood.

The random blood glucose level can be checked at any time, while the fasting blood glucose level is recommended to be checked before 10 am and is best checked first thing in the morning. Some recommended times to check your blood glucose levels include immediately you wake up/early in the morning (between 6 am and 8 am); before a meal; two hours after a meal and before bedtime.

For people living with diabetes, the target is that their fasting blood glucose falls between 80-120mg/dl. Two hours after eating, levels less than 180mg/dl are ideal targets.

Know your HbA1C number: When you visit the clinic for a routine health check, your doctor might require that you do the HBA1C (haemoglobin A1C) test, which tracks your average blood sugar levels over the past three months by measuring the glucose attached to haemoglobin found on red blood cells. This helps to check how you have been managing your glucose levels and the effectiveness of your treatment plan.

Red blood cells typically survive for around three and four months. The more glucose there is in the blood, the more glucose that will be available to attach to haemoglobin.

The normal range of HbA1C is less than 5.7%. Levels above 6.5% indicate diabetes while levels between 5.7% and 6.4% indicate prediabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, a good target range should be 7% and lower. However, this is subject to your treatment plan, age and the goals you set with your doctor.

Ideally, everyone should know their normal blood pressure range and monitor it from time to time, but it is significantly more important for people living with diabetes, who should work to keep their blood pressure levels less than 130/80mmHg.

Blood pressure monitoring is very important because hypertension might complicate your diabetes management plan and increase your financial burden. High blood pressure also means you’re at risk for other diseases such as kidney diseases, stroke, aneurysms and vascular dementia.

Monitoring your weight can give insights into how much you abide by good diet and lifestyle choices. An unhealthy weight or being obese is an important risk factor for metabolic diseases. Apart from the fact that obesity can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes, an unhealthy weight can make you susceptible to other diseases and make diabetes harder to control.

Your doctor would usually recommend that you lose around 5% of your total weight if you are overweight, which is favourable in reducing insulin resistance, blood pressure and consequently the amount of diabetes medications needed.

Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of death in adults living with diabetes. The link between cholesterol levels and heart problems has been established and diabetes increases the risk of heart disease by almost four times.

Monitoring your cholesterol levels, with directives from your doctor, keeps you a step ahead. Total cholesterol levels should be at less than 200 mg/dl.

The two major types of cholesterol—HDL (good) and LDL (bad)—cholesterol are measured independently. While HDL cholesterol should be above 40-50 mg/dl, LDL cholesterol is ideal below 110mg/dl. A distortion in these values indicates strong risks for cardiovascular diseases.

If you have type 2 diabetes, you’re likely planning or adhering to a healthy diet plan. A common practice in dieting is counting calories. Counting calories might be better than counting food nutrients: carbs, vitamins and proteins. This is because calories are actually what determines your weight outcomes. If you eat more calories, without losing some in exercise, you will gain weight and vice versa.

As a start, you can know the calories in popular foods around you or know the foods that seem healthy but are very high in calories.

Seeing a dietitian is the best way to learn about calories and what foods are best for you. Sometimes, it is not just about calories, some foods might be more likely to impact blood sugar levels and drastic weight loss by being in a calorie deficit state may not be the best option for you depending on your health outcome.

Self-monitoring is a critical part of the diabetes journey but you shouldn’t have to figure it out alone. Joining a diabetes community is very beneficial to educate, guide and support you, on how to best stay alert and manage the condition to prevent any complications.

Mojisola Agabato is a certified Diabetes Nurse Educator, she can be reached on 07012362694

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